Today at 10am, various local residents arrived for a meeting with Barnet Council officers to discuss "the way forward" following the occupation of Friern Barnet library. the meeting was chaired by Phoenix, on of the new occupants of the library and approx 20 people attended, along wityh 4 council officers.
The first thing which the Council officers asker for was that there be no filming. The meeting agreed to abide by this request. Phoenix did his utmost to ensure a polite and civil meeting was held and provided tea and buscuits to try and ensure a cordial atmosphere.
I could go into lengthy details about the discussions and some of the statements. As Mrs Angry and Mr Reasonable both attended, I am sure that we will have fulsome reports. It appears to me that the situiation is as follows.
The council have conceded that they are only really interested in closure and sell off of Friern Barnet library.
The local community are only really interested in the retention of a library on the site.
The council officers agreed that they had no authority to discuss the future of the library. the Commercial director of Barnet Council, craig Cooper, agreed that discussions regarding the building were an issue for Councilloir Daniel Thomas, Deputy Leader of the Council, not Robert Rams, Library supremo. As Mr Thomas is Mrt Coopers bnoss, we must conclude that Mr Thomas sanctioned the negotiations with the group run by Phoenix.
The Save Friern Barnet Library Group declined to be formally represented at the meeting.
Two Labour Councillors, Ms Coakley-Webb and Mr Mittra attended and explained the Labour party viewpoint.
The chair of Barnet Age UK, Dr Julia Hines attended and explained the problems with the Friary Park building.
Many local residents explained why the Friary Park site was unsuitable for their requirements.
What concerns the Barnet Eye is that this debate is causing the very real need to use the Friary Park site, albiet not as a replacement for Friern Barnet Library.
It is clear that the Council have not fully investigated all of the relevant options for Friern Barnet Library and are missing an opportunity to actually claim a big victory for the community. There are many local groups and residents who are keen to see a community hub development succeed. It is a shame that it takes an occupation to get the ball rolling.
The new residents are committed to a partial reopening of a community library space between 11am and 3pm Mon - Weds. To facilitate this they are having a planning meeting today at 6pm at the Library and ask anyone interested to attend.
They are also asking for volunteers to take a 2 hour shift between either 11am-1pm or 1pm-3pm Mon- weds. They have appealed for books as well as refreshmentss (tea coffee) and snacks to assist. A further meeting will be held next Monday at 10am.
This may surprise many in Barnet, but I am pleased that the council is at long last engaging with residents. I hope councillors Rams and Thomas attend and actually listen to what local residents have to say.
It was clear to me that the council officials are really not at all sure as to what a library really is and why people need their services. I won't embarrass the council official who made an ill thought out remark about how the council should deal with elderly people who use libraries for warmth and company. I will just say that dialog is clearly an improvement on what was happening before.
It would be easy to try and make political capital out of what is happening. The Barnet Eye will refrain from doing this, as we believe library provision is too important for point scoring. We truly believe that if Friern Barnet library reopens, it would be a ictory for everyone concerned with Barnet, its council and its community.
Please attend the meeting tonight if you pssibly can.